Interview: Karsten Pflum

Karsten Pflum, formerly known as Slaphead Faun, is a widely diverse sonic architect and performer from Europe. He has been writing eclectic music for over ten years and his mixes are widely known in the left-field fernandum.  His influences extend to 1980s synth pop, Detroit techno, and Nordic folk-music, and beyond which help guide his surrealist soundscaping. His music sometimes portrays a constant pure progression intertwined in an eclectic and adventurously eerie dissonant and deep industrial movement. At times he ventures into a melancholic horror with titles like, "Dead Students Partying In The Attic Whilst I Cannot Sleep." One moment he is assembling wobbled bass lines into broken dubstep and then transitioning the listener into a funky upbeat fidgeted glitch Goliath. He is precisely technical and peculiar with rhythmic mastery embedded in distant emotional beauty. He has traveled and performed all over the world and many remixes and EPs fill his discography. His 7th studio album, "DODE" will be released June 18th!

Volterock: Where do you see yourself in 1000 years?

Karsten Pflum: That is actually a pretty tough question. But in fact I have a really clear picture of where I will be by then. I have made a deal with my good friend that when I die, he will be responsible for having me stuffed and then somehow having me placed in the Hard Rock Cafe here in Copenhagen, next to Tivoli. I can totally imagine this - his skills as a taxidermist are limited, so I expect that I will be a complete mess.

Volterock: Did you grow up in Denmark?

Karsten Pflum: As a child my dad was working abroad a lot, so from when I was 3 to 7 my whole family lived in Zambia in Africa. This was in the early 1980s where things were relatively peaceful there. I went to an international school and had a quite normal childhood there, if you add an occasional safari trip here and there. We moved back to Denmark for some years after that, and then moved to Bangladesh from age 10 to 12, or something like that. I have quite clear memories of that, we were living in Dhaka, the capital. It's a super poor and chaotic country. Overpopulated and basically located so it acts like a funnel for the water masses from three big rivers. This means that it's flooded more or less all the time, and really just a mess. In many ways I'm happy I wasn't older while we lived there. I don't think I quite understood what was going on around me. In my adult life I've lived around places in Denmark, and also 4 years in Berlin. So yeah, definitely not your average upbringing in the same house all my life...

Volterock: How did music find you in your youth?

Karsten Pflum: I started getting into music at a quite young age, discovering that I had some kind of a musical talent. I definitely wouldn't say that I come from a musical home, but I was playing drums and keyboards in different bands at a quite young age, regardless of genres. I was playing the tympanies in the school concert band, where I was by far the youngest. And also drumming in different bands with my friends. At that age, around 12, we were of course into Nirvana and Pink Floyd. Later at the age of 16 I got interested in electronics, because I had a friend who bought a whole bunch of gear - synths, sound modules etc. I thought this was so cool, so at that point I kind of decided that this was what I wanted to do. I spent all my savings on buying an Akai S2000 sampler and a Roland Mc-50 sequencer. My first album "Tracks" on Worm Interface was basically made with only that. My early electronic musical references, around 96-98, were people like Björk (I later learned that my favourite stuff from her was mostly the stuff she did with Mark Bell) and Einstürzende neubauten. To be honest I think that having a weird music taste at an early age really was a way of standing out from the crowd. In many ways I guess I was just lucky ending up listening to Autechre and Bogdan Raczynski. If I'd had other friends I might have ended up playing keyboards and percussion in a Level 42 cover band or something. Life's funny in that way!

Volterock: What are some of your favorite places to listen to live music?

Karsten Pflum: I have some favourite scenarios when it comes to listening to music. I would say the best one is in a dark room with lights off, and a spliff in my hand. But of course I also love listening to music out. Depends what mood I'm in. At the moment I really miss the long nights in the Berlin Clubs.

Volterock: What is your favorite fan-made video?

Karsten Pflum: I really like what this guy Nootoon (Gunar Gräve) made for my track "Tak 1 (120 BPM Karramel Mix)". He got in touch because he already had been using some of my music in one of his videos, and he had a very clear idea of a small story that would fit the track. I like the silly and childish style a lot. To be honest I am really not that into the 2015-scifi meets psychotic Chris Cunningham style. I don't see my music as being about sci-fi or the future at all. Rather it belongs in the expressionistic movement. Where I would also place people like Legowelt or even Aphex Twin. At least that's what the music looks like to me, when I close my eyes. Like Edward Munch or Van Gogh. One of the very first videos someone made for me, around 2003, was Alex Evans's (Bluespoon) video for the track "Staying Pictures". That one is probably still my favourite. It's a perfect symbiosis with the music. The first time I met the Finish producer Lackluster he came up to me and said that this video had made him cry.

Volterock: You've previously collaborated with William Kudahl, under the name Infants. Have you collaborated with anyone else? How does a collaborative molding of minds work with your workflow?

Karsten Pflum: I've worked with a few people over the years, besides William Kudahl. Some 7-8 years ago I was in a noise boy band called Euro Pussy. We played at Roskilde Festival and released a track "Eat Like Hawks" on an EP on the german techno/noise label "Ancient Methods". But in the end we all got fed up with the project. 4 egos in one room can be really hard to handle. Apart from that I've had a few collaborations with my friend Mads Lindgren or "Monolog", as "A Dying User". Heavy dark industrial sounding drum and bass kind of stuff. As much as I enjoy working with other people I have to admit that I really prefer being in the studio alone. I have a very big ego when it comes to working practically, and for me it's a really intimate thing to make music. I like to have full control, and also the fact that I can only blame myself if something sounds like shit. I love to jam with other people, but then it's more for the sheer fun of it. With William Kudahl we have teamed up once, and played a 10 hour ambient sleep concert together, last summer, as Infants. But this is also more jam and impro based, and the fact that we are playing over so many hours also makes it convenient to be two rather than one. We'll be doing another sleep concert this summer in Copenhagen, and I really look forward to that!

Volterock: Yes! The sleep concert is certainly unique! You said it was in the spirit of ambient godfather Robert Rich and included 10 hours of music to be partly experienced in a subliminal way as time drifts unknowingly while people sleep or relax in comfortable beds throughout the night. Did you have the opportunity to speak with anyone afterwards? What was their experience? What was your experience? What sort of dreams were had?

Karsten Pflum: I spoke to quite a few of them, and they all had different things to say. Some had very lucid dreams - really spacey shit, and others just felt like they had a nice rest. One guy told me he had been hearing the same loop all night (he was referring to the loop i was playing when he fell asleep). It's so different what people get out of it. Really interesting. For me the golden moment is around 5-6, where everyone is finally sleeping, and I start getting this slightly psychedelic experience, that you get when you listen to ambient and drone music for such a long time. You wouldn't think so, but a sleeping audience is as least as much fun as an awake one.

Volterock: If you can, take a picture of where you are right now and/or of what you are doing.

Volterock: It appears that you are using an MPC and an Elektron Machine? 

Karsten Pflum: Yes, I am using the MPC and Machinedrum as my main midi sequencers. I love the way they sound together. I love the Akai sampler sound! Always did. The MPC has a very crisp sound for middle and highs, but is more weak in the lows. The Machinedrum has a very clear distinct sound, and can be really subby. It's a great sampler, and has some fun synths machines also. I keep returning to these two pieces of gear. This MPC1000 is my 3rd or 4th. Sometimes it's nice to get rid of it, but usually I regret it after some time. My Machinedrum was broken for a while, and I had become really fed up with the sound of it. But returning to it it still surprises me and brings in something new to my productions. Apart from that I'm doing a lot of FM stuff with a Kurzweil sampler/synth. And then I've got some different analogue synths - MFB, Roland and Korg. And for digital synth stuff I use the Nordlead a lot. That's the basic core of my studio at the moment. Definitely nothing that exotic. Some broken or modded old drum machines, keyboards and sound modules.

Volterock: Do you prefer working with music hardware the most? Does software play a role too? 

Karsten Pflum: I like to work with both, it's always a bit back and forth. But I guess if I had to pick my favourite it would be the hardware way. It's kind of like people who are into old cars. They never work, but the machinery is so well made, that once they do work, they are so much cooler than new modern cars. Everything can be done with the computer though. It's really limitless, but that's also the problem. Where to start and end? But working both analogue and digital, outside and inside the computer gives a rich sound altogether. Many layers and a lot of depth. 

Volterock: What do you use now in your studio and how did it progress to this state from when you first started? 

Karsten Pflum: As I said I started out with an Akai S2000 back in 1996-97. And a Roland 8 track sequencer. Things gradually built up from there. If had loads of different gear over the years, also borrowed a lot from friends. Also stuff like guitar pedals and moded weird Casio keyboards. Software wise I've been into both PC and Mac. I used CoolEdit and Soundforge for many years. And Cubase and Logic. I was never really into programming, it's a waste of time for me because so many other people do it better. I had some programming in school, and i started making a synth, and when it finally made a cool sound i was like - ok, I just spent three nights on this, and the basic synth in Cubase sounds much better. Effect wise I really like the Ensoniq DP4, but I lost it some years back. I wanna get a new one soon. I guess I prefer using outboard effects more in the creative part of music making, and use the computer more for tiny details, in the mixing. I love the WAVES bundles e.g. But yeah, to get back to the question, the setup is always changing, cos i buy new stuff, sell old stuff or brake it. It's a good way to keep things fun, to change the setup all the time. 

Volterock: Is this similar to your live setup? 

Karsten Pflum: My live setup is mostly a lot more simple. Again the MPC1000 and the Machinedrum are great to bring, cos they are so small and travel friendly. And I use Ableton Live often, synced with the machines. I guess the basic live set up for me at the moment is with those machines, sometimes with the Nord Modular also. Really depends on what kind of set I'm playing also. Sometimes my sets are more like DJ-sets with my own tracks. If I'm playing a 6 hour set at a festival, I will definitely have more fun if I play my tunes in one big Ableton live set.

Volterock: How do you prepare for a live show? 

Karsten Pflum: First I choose what machines I wanna bring, then make the setup (what machine is doing what parts), make samples and sounds, label and name stuff thoroughly. And then just practice and practice. It's a nice feeling if a live set can go in many different directions, according to what mood you are in. So having the basics sorted out well, I mean the setup, gives more freedom for messing around.

Volterock: When thinking back to the last song you made, what was your creative process?

Karsten Pflum: The last track I finished is a remix that's coming out later this year. I basically did a drum track with all my gear, making a lot of synth drums and layering them with samples. Then I jammed around with a series of patterns/sequences, muting and unmuting on the mixer, messing with effects etc. One the rhythm track was down i added some layers of melody and bass, also layering synths. The arrangement of the track was made on the computer, with a total of maximum 10 tracks.

Volterock: If you were talking with a beginner in music creation, what would you recommend? 

Karsten Pflum: I would recommend the person just to start right away, and keep it really simple. Use something easy like FL Studio or Ableton Live for the computer. Or if we are talking hardware then perhaps something like a small MPC or another workstation. Keep it basic for starters and just be creative.

Volterock: I heard vocals sometimes in your tracks like, "Benk Retric." Do you use your own voice? What are you saying?

Karsten Pflum: If I use vocals it's different where they come from, even quite random. On my coming album I use my own voice quite a lot, through effects. The voice on "Benk Retric" is recorded from the radio. It's the guy reading out the lotto numbers. People have asked me if there is some hidden system in these numbers, or what it means.

Volterock: Have you made any tutorials on music production?

Karsten Pflum: Never. But I teach electronic music at the music conservatory in Denmark.

Volterock: Quite often, teaching leads to more self discovery with added surprises from fresh minds and new perspectives. As a teacher at the Danish school of electronica, have any revelations like this occurred?

Karsten Pflum: Oh yes, quite a few - that's basically why I love to teach. It keeps me sharp and up to date with what new/young people are doing with their music. Often I have the experience of having to verbalise something, either technical or aesthetic, and having my eyes opened in the process. It's weird that we all do the things we are good at without thinking about them, but verbalising these methods or techniques can really give you a next level feeling. I love that sensation. Teachers learn just as much as their students.

Volterock: What was the last album you listened to?

Karsten Pflum: The last few months I've been getting into early british techno and house music from the late 80s to early 90s. The label Irdial Discs in particular. There's so much quality stuff there, and it's amazing how early it was being made. The playlist I have running at the moment has names like In Sync, Luke Slater and Aqua Regia. Quality techno and house music! Also I've been listening a lot to newer electro acts like E.R.P. and -=UHU=-. I love this kind of melodic electro. Also more dark and twisted stuff like Eomac or Cristian Vogel for that matter. Ok but if I should namedrop one album as the last one I've listened thoroughly to it would be John Carpenter's new one "Lost Themes". Its so tasteful and tasteless at the same time. It really transports me!

Volterock: What lead you to creating the type of music that you create now?

Karsten Pflum: Well my musical journey has had quite a few twists and turns over the years. I guess it can still all be summed up as electronica, although I'm even not quite sure what that word means. Earlier on I was really into fast crazy breakbeats and very melodious stuff. With my last album "Sleepwald" I kind of chose to discard all the beats and really just narrow things down as much as possible. To the bone. The styles that I make also depend a lot of how I work in the studio. At the moment I love jamming outside the computer, and creating the tracks in the same way as I would play them live. Plug everything in the mixer, and then play around with, synths and effects. I think that earlier on I felt I had to prove something - like how complex stuff I could do. These days I'm a bit more chilled about it, and more into the actual emotion of the tunes. I love editing with the computer, but it gets really boring to use it as a creative tool. Or to put it another way - I work really well having limitations. So if I don't feel limited automatically, by what gear I'm using or whatever, I'll try to set up some rules for myself to follow (or break). Like no breakbeat samples, only FM-synthesis or whatever it might be. Making music happens on a quite unconscious level for me. I'll make something and then forget about it again. Then at one point, I'll go through the different projects or recordings I've made over the past time, and pick out the best stuff, to continue working on. It's nice to put things away for a while, until I forget how many hours I spent on making it, and then listening to it with fresh and more objective ears later on.

Volterock: What has been your favorite live performance?

Karsten Pflum: Well, the obvious thing to say would be when I played at Berghain in Berlin, for the 10 year anniversary of my former label Ad Noiseam. Or last summer on a roof top in Copenhagen for two thousand people, while the sun was going down. But really playing for a small audiences in more intimate places have been my personal favourites. Some years ago, when I was living in Berlin, I had a show in Copenhagen in a cinema. All my friends, whom I hadn't seen for a while, showed up and sat there on the front row - completely hyped up. I was playing really fast and aggressive beats with a lot of emotional melodies on top, and I could really feel the love from the first row.

Volterock: You have said that music is a kind of therapy for you and helps you find the identity that suits you at the time. How would you describe this new identity for your newest release, "DODE?"

Karsten Pflum: Well that's what I basically try to do describe with the music. I'm not as good with words, unfortunately.

Volterock: You run the label, "Merry X-Mas Records" along with Drumatix. How did this come about and what is the future vision for this label? How can we stay updated on new releases? 

Karsten Pflum: No, the label Merry X-mas Records was started by two of my friends some years back, for releasing a series of vinyls with music varying from hiphop to classic music. But we help out each other all the time, and I was doing these two digital releases - Drumatix and myself last year. Merry X-mas is really just a platform for having fun, so I have no idea about what the future will bring. I hope we make more vinyls in the next year. The only problem is that none of us are really label boss material. I am a super unstructured person.. The good thing is that the label promotes itself all through Christmas, without us having to do anything. That's the real genious of the label!

Volterock: Who is Karen Lust?

Karsten Pflum: She is my feminine side.

Volterock: What's the best way to stay up-to-date with your live shows and new music productions?

Karsten Pflum: I don't have a webpage, so I guess the easiest is to look on my Facebook, Soundcloud or Bandcamp. The popular platforms, hehe. I really miss the good old myspace days!

Volterock: How may we reach you to book a live performance?

Karsten Pflum: Write me on one of these sites. I am active on all of them and enjoy being a part of these communities.

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